5 Tips for Taming the Paper Tiger
Top Solutions For Organizing Your Desk—And Keeping It Organized
“The average person spends 30 minutes a day searching for things. Certain people can lose as much as two hours per day hunting for items. If they worked 20 days a month, they could potentially be wasting up to 40 hours of valuable time.” —Tria Presher
In photographer Jill Krementz’ book, The Writer’s Desk, there’s a startling photo of Swiss clinical psychologist Jean Piaget’s workspace. Every available surface is stacked with incredible, head-high towers of file folders, books, papers and ephemera. It’s madness. It’s an avalanche waiting to happen. Yet the famously prolific Piaget obviously thrived among the clutter. He told Krementz: “In my whole life, I’ve only lost one paper.” For most of us, however, paper clutter impedes both creativity and productivity.
To help us tame the paper tiger, we reached out to Tria Presher, owner of Ideal Organizing Solutions, a Virginia Beach-based group of professionally certified organizers, specializing in residential and small business solutions. They are accredited by the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO).
1. Gain control of your desk with
smart mail sorting.
Establish a mail station in your workspace. Select two sorting baskets, a good-quality letter opener, and position a garbage can by your desk. Begin by sorting newly received papers and mail first. Try not to handle each piece of paper more than once. Either act on it, file it, recycle it, or shred it. Recycle junk mail without opening. Only keep papers for which there is a clear purpose: those you are currently using (action items), those you’ll need for a limited period as reference materials and those you’ll need to keep indefinitely, like taxes. There’s no need to keep non-current credit card, banking and financial statements, trade journals, manuals, course materials, magazines and newspapers that
are available online.
2. Establish a desktop caddy file system.
Once the mail is sorted, organize it into categories that fit your needs. Suggested classifications might be: banking, bills, catalogs, coupons, credit cards, pending, and tax receipts. Purchase an upright, desktop caddy, preferably one with sides, that accommodates legal-size hanging file folders. Keep this caddy on your desk or in a desk drawer as a replacement for the traditional ‘in box.’ An upright caddy works better than a flat box; you won’t have to shuffle through accumulated layers of paper compacted in trays or in random piles. Plus, a caddy gives you a bird’s-eye-view of the paperwork you need to file or act upon. Create labels for main headings, and drop labeled files into caddy. Daily mail can be temporarily placed into tabbed manila file folders marked Act, Recycle and Shred. Act on mail that requires attention as soon as possible.
3. Create a hard copy file system.
Hard copy papers such as insurance, taxes and other important documents don’t belong in a box; they belong in an organized hard copy file. I suggest you do not color code these files. Keep it simple. When creating files for these important papers, start with existing papers before adding additional categories. Use Post-it-Notes® to temporarily label the papers that you’ll sort into individual stacks of like items. Write on the Post-its each main heading and any sub folders that will need to be filed under the main heading. For example, ‘Insurance’ is a main heading file, while Auto, Homeowners and Life insurance exist as sub-folders. Once you determine the main headings and sub-folder titles, use a labeler, or print out and affix labels to the files. Drop into file cabinet or file drawer. Tab Tip: Main heading files should be all center tabs, while sub-folders should be left, middle, or right tabbed.
4. Leverage the power of computer and electronic filing.
You can keep anything stored in a filing cabinet on your computer. Create an ‘e-filing cabinet’ on your PC or MAC. Work with existing files already in your system. Some documents will need to be scanned in, and for this task I prefer Neat Desk® software. Create as many folders as you need, ensuring they’re labeled in a way that makes logical sense to you. These folders take up very little space on your computer and can be easily stored in the Cloud via Dropbox, so you can access them from any computer or device. Outlook can centralize all your contacts, but keep them updated. Consider using a professional app or scanning software to capture and manage business cards. This eliminates the need to keep or receive hard copy cards.
5. Maintain your organized workspace.
• Open incoming mail each day at your mail station. All retained papers should go into your desk caddy. Once a week, either move the papers from your desk caddy into your hard copy file, or recycle and shred papers requiring no further action.
• Rely on cloud storage by using Google Drive (free) or Dropbox (free up to 2GB). With Google Drive, you can easily create documents, forms, spreadsheets and slides. Both Google Drive and Dropbox allow you to easily share documents by creating a link that you can send to others to view or edit your work. Dropbox is great for larger files like photos that you don’t want taking up space on your computer or phone.
• Use digital Post-it Notes to organize tasks and ideas.
• Each week: Back up files in Google Drive or Dropbox, clean up desktop files, place files and icons in the right folders, and empty email trash.
• Each month: Empty your download folders, review your apps, and zero out your blog feeds.
• Each quarter: Delete unwanted images, place remaining images into Cloud storage, and assess your social media channels.
• Once a year: Gather year-end tax-related documents and receipts from your desktop and hard copy tax files. Sort, recycle or shred unwanted or expired papers. Get a computer checkup.